Blue Cross Foundation Honors Volunteers for Louisiana Youth with Grants at 2015 Angel Awards

Sept. 18, 2015

The sounds of children playing coupled with the looks of relief on foster parents’ faces as they see their little ones relaxed, safe and enjoying toys and needed supplies are what Elijah Evans thrives on as a volunteer. For those few moments, the foster children Evans’ organization helps are normal kids without a painful past. Once an abused child himself, Evans started No Use for Abuse to educate the public about how to prevent child abuse and provide opportunities for abused children and their foster parents to get support. That is why Evans is what the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation calls an Angel. Evans will join seven other volunteers for Louisiana children as this year’s Angel Award recipients.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana works to improve the health and lives of Louisianians. The Blue Cross Foundation believes children who are better cared for are healthier - extending the company’s mission beyond customers to the Louisiana public. That is why the Foundation wants to honor those who donate their time and talents to better the lives of Louisiana children -- whether through enrichment projects in the areas of arts and education or programs addressing the direst needs of an underserved population -- with a grant to help them do even more.

Over two decades, the Angel Award has given more than $1.9 million to charities whose purpose is to improve the welfare of the state's children. The current Angels bring the number of volunteers honored by the program to 169.

More than 60 nominees from across the state were considered for the award by a committee of past Angel Award winners. Each Angel will receive a $20,000 grant for the charity of his or her choice. They will be recognized at a presentation ceremony by invitation only Monday, Oct. 19, 2015, at the Renaissance Baton Rouge Hotel. Receiving the Angel Award this year are:

Elijah Benjamin Evans of Youngsville. Elijah Evans founded No Use for Abuse, an anti-child abuse program, in 2012. No Use for Abuse educates the community about child abuse and ways to prevent this horrible tragedy from happening to children in the Youngsville/Lafayette area. No Use for Abuse supports an annual Back to School Bash to help with school supplies and hosts a Christmas of Hope party where children who were once abused can receive gifts and connect with each other. Inspired by his own life experiences, Evans works to promote awareness, interacts with survivors and garners sponsorships to help No Use for Abuse go further. At the age of 17, Evans is the youngest recipient of an Angel Award this year.

Dustin LaFont of Baton Rouge. Dustin LaFont founded Front Yard Bikes in Baton Rouge in 2010. Front Yard Bikes is a program that teaches young children to earn a bike through hard work and dedication. If kids repair or restore a bike in the Front Yard Bikes shop, they are working to earn it. LaFont uses his experience as a teacher to educate children on mathematics, physics and mechanics while repairing bikes. As a bonus, the kids experience inclusivity, mentorship, recreation and academic achievement. Front Yard Bikes provides ways for youth in the community to participate in weekly group rides, extracurricular activities and in building reliable transportation in a safe environment.

Bivian “Sonny” Lee, III of New Orleans. Sonny Lee founded Son of a Saint in 2011 in honor of his mother and late father, former New Orleans Saints cornerback Bivian Lee, Jr. Son of a Saint is a New Orleans non-profit organization that provides mentorship, tutoring, community service opportunities, mental health treatment and other self-improvement activities for boys in need of a father figure’s influence. Under Lee’s direction, Son of a Saint has grown from accommodating 10 boys to 40 boys in the program.

Kristen Maddox of Denham Springs. Kristen Maddox founded A Door of Hope, a faith-based, non-profit organization in Denham Springs that helps its clients break the vicious cycle of life-controlling issues and self-destructive behaviors such as abuse, addiction, eating disorders, depression, past abortions or self-harm. A Door of Hope provides free counseling and other support services. Inspired by Maddox’s own experiences, A Door of Hope works to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of young women in the community.

L.J. “Joe” Rachal of Olla. Joe Rachal is a board member for the Centennial Cultural Center. The Center, a non-profit organization in Olla, works to nurture and promote culture and fine arts in LaSalle Parish. Rachal’s work includes helping organize the Center’s “Very Special Camp” program, an art camp specifically designed for special needs children. Rachal raises funds, coordinates support from the community and enlists help from specialized volunteers for the camp. Rachal also volunteers with the other Centennial Cultural Center camps, including its Children’s Art Camp, Mosaic Camp, Experimentation Station science camp, Drama and Literacy Camp and Children’s Art Exhibit.

Kassi Robinson of Benton. Kassi Robinson founded Pay it Forward Networking in 2013. Pay It Forward Networking is an organization based in Bossier City that uses social media networking to grant wishes of children with special needs, disabilities or life-threatening illnesses. Robinson created Pay It Forward to develop a network of willing individuals connected through social media who want to help children and pay their own good fortune forward. Under Robinson’s leadership, Pay It Forward has granted wishes for 37 children and reached more than 7,500 followers to date.

Paula Taylor of Sulphur. Paula Taylor founded the Sulphur Christian Community Coalition in 2010. The Sulphur Christian Community Coalition is a non-profit organization that organizes volunteers to provide tutoring, GED classes, summer camps, enrichment programs, support groups and more to children of all ages in the community. On behalf of the Sulphur Christian Community Coalition, Taylor works to secure funding and volunteers from the community to provide tangible resources and services to create a safe, educational environment for children. 

Elisha Wilson-Thomas of Tallulah. Elisha Wilson-Thomas founded Tallulah’s TIARA Girlz, a social club for girls ages 3 to 7, in 2009. TIARA – Teaching Independence, Autonomy, Respect and Allegiance – addresses teen pregnancy, drug abuse, extreme poverty and low graduation rates in Tallulah with education at an early age. Tallulah’s TIARA Girlz provides social, cultural and leadership skills to help girls make life choices that can reverse these troubling trends. Under Wilson-Thomas’ guidance, TIARA has engaged community-minded individuals and collaborated with the Relay for Life program, Muscular Dystrophy Association and Juvenile Diabetes Foundation on community service projects.

Tanja Foil of Baton Rouge. Tanja Foil has volunteered and supported Families Helping Families of Greater Baton Rouge, a non-profit organization that provides resources for children with disabilities and their families, since 2011. In addition to her work with Families Helping Families, Foil also serves as an active voice for autism in the community. Foil helps coordinate the annual Active for Autism 5K and Family Fun Fest and helps facilitate the Attic Trash and Treasure Sale, which raised a record $94,000 this year for Families Helping Families of Greater Baton Rouge. Foil is recognized as this year’s Blue Angel for her efforts outside her daily work as an employee of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana. Her organization will receive a grant of $5,000.

Foundation president Michael Tipton says, “We call these kind people Angels because they give selflessly of their time and resources to directly improve the lives of children across our great state of Louisiana. We are proud of their work and look forward to aiding in their efforts.”

For more information about the Angel Award program, visit ourhomelouisiana.org.

About the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation is building a healthier Louisiana through community outreach and charitable giving. Its two signature programs are The Angel Award®, an annual statewide recognition program that awards funds to outstanding Louisianians working to improve the quality of life of the state's children, and Smart Bodies®, an interactive education program to prevent childhood obesity. In addition, Blue Cross contributes nearly $2 million annually in financial aid to various nonprofit organizations throughout the state that contribute to health, education and the overall quality of life in our communities. When we put dollars into Blue Cross communities, it makes Louisiana a better place for everyone. The Foundation is funded solely through Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana.

About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana
Founded in New Orleans in 1934, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is a tax-paying nonprofit health insurer. We are a private company, mutually owned by our policyholders, with an independent Louisiana Board of Directors and no shareholders. We are an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is committed to improving the health and lives of all Louisianians. With our subsidiaries, HMO Louisiana and Southern National Life, we provide group and individual health insurance plans, life and disability insurance, group voluntary products and administrative services to one out of four Louisiana residents. We’re the only Louisiana insurer that offers plans in every parish. We also provide every customer with comprehensive wellness education, programs and services to help them live healthier lives. Headquartered in Baton Rouge, we have eight regional offices to serve our customers around the state.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is dedicated to transforming the healthcare industry in Louisiana into one that delivers high-quality health outcomes for our customers with top-notch service at more affordable costs. Our reputation for exceptional service and prompt payments, as well as the hard work of our 200+ in-house doctors, nurses, pharmacists, social workers and dietitians, keeps both customer and provider satisfaction high. Surveys by the Louisiana State Medical Society and the Louisiana Hospital Association consistently rank Blue Cross the best company providers do business with.

Blue Cross is deeply committed to the communities we serve. We invest both time and money in the health and wellbeing of Louisiana children by supporting more than 200 charitable organizations. We invite and encourage all Louisianians to visit our website or talk to us on social media through our online hub.